‘A mighty happy time’

My great-grandfather was a man of few words, at times, as when he made his sole reference to a new office: “Elected to the [Norfolk] City Council tonight.”[1] A more typical effusion occurs nine days later, when he notes the “Early cabbage [is] looking good.”[2]


1 April: Bought an Overland car.

3 May: Went with Hotel Ass[ociatio]n to Cape Henry[3] for Oyster Roast.

8 May: After supper tonight the whole family[4] went to the strawberry patch and picked berries for breakfast. Had a mighty happy time.

13 June: Bought Auto truck for $854.00 which I hope to use at farm and haul luggage at hotel.

16 June: Fred went to Lynchburg as a delegate to Sunday school convention.

2 July: Estelle and the children spent the day at Marstella’s, Willoughby Beach [in Norfolk].

12 August: Fred went to Northfield, Mass., attending Brotherhood convention.

1 September: Fred returned from Northfield, Mass.

1 October: My fortieth birthday – Fred presented me with a pair of cuff buttons which I very highly appreciate.

11 November: Germany Surrendered!![5]

28 November: Thanksgiving day – took dinner with the Wendels, and after leaving their apartment, found that our Automobile had been stolen.

29 November: Found our Automobile on Cooke Ave., where joy riders had left it.

17 December: Attending Hotel Exposition in New York. Weather cold and raining.

25 December: Sick in bed, but could not stay sick on Christmas, so got up and enjoyed a big dinner. The Wendels and Mrs. J.[6] visiting us.


7 January: Mrs. Jackson returned to New York.

4 March: This has been a very mild winter, only one snow so far.

27 April: Killing frost.

25 June: First rain for three weeks. Crops burned up.

3 July: I see from record that the stone walk was laid by Fred and myself today one year ago and this day I had equally as hard a task. The wind mill was out of order and I worked until 11 PM to repair it.

17 July: Very rainy day. Went home at 5 o’clock and after putting on rain coat and rubbers Frances and I went to the peach orchard and had a fine time picking peaches. Frances is a great comfort to me as she enters into everything with a light heart and so happy.

18 July: Fred received notice of his appointment to Annapolis.[7]

Continued here.


[1] J. Frank Bell journal entry for 5 March 1918.

[2] Entry for 14 March 1918.

[3] On Chesapeake Bay.

[4] J. Frank Bell (1878–1944) was married to Minnie Estelle Jackson 1902–35 and to Margaret Feller Stegall in 1936. Frank and Estelle’s children were my grandfather Frederick Jackson Bell (1903–1994) and Frances Fairfax Bell (1909–1997).

[5] The armistice signed at Le Francport near Compiègne marked the end of the First World War.

[6] Estelle’s mother Rebecca Jane Eggleston (1856–1937) was married to Oliver Dodridge Jackson 1875–1915 and to William E. Waterman in 1924.

[7] He was only fifteen years old at the time.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

3 thoughts on “‘A mighty happy time’

  1. Scott, your grandfather was outright effusive compared to my father! I was especially touched by your grandfather’s expression of affection about his daughter on 17 July, 1919.

    My father often expressed affection in quiet, subtle ways, but rarely with words. Today is the 108th anniversary of his birthday in the outback of Idaho, by the way, and he has been much on my mind.

    He was not expected until Sept, and was so tiny at birth that it was thought he would not live, so they did not register his birth. But both he and my grandmother proved persistent. She wrapped him in a cloth around her body and suckled him, carrying him around under her dress those summer months, until she was sure he would survive. He did, of course, and lived to be 77 years old, surviving several more near-misses. He never did get a birth certificate until one was required to register for the draft for WW2.

  2. Bare bones words or beautifully written with heartfelt commentary on current affairs, diaries are wonderful reading.
    Thank you!

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